There are moments in mommyhood when I think, “What in the world are you doing, kid? You must get that from your daddy.” Why my toddler, J, needs to build a house out of blocks only to knock it down, or why he only voluntarily eats things that contain cheese, I’ll never understand. But I can say, being a mommy to a very honest, outspoken and opinionated toddler is teaching me more than I ever expected.
Months before J was born, I read parenting book after parenting book. I had a game plan; I was ready. Before he could even laugh, he (metaphorically) laughed in my face, and said, “No mommy, I have some things to teach you.”
1.) Life’s not fair
Anytime I hear that phrase, “life’s not fair,” I picture some weathered, grumpy old man taking a kid with a false sense of entitlement down a peg or two. Cliché or not, it’s true, and we all need a little reminder every now and then. J so frequently reminds me, whether I’m explaining to him that he can’t have candy for breakfast or that we can’t go outside and play at noon on a 100 degree day just because he wants to. My explanations are always met with resistance – which is another humbling reminder. He isn’t always going to comply with everything I say, just because I said so. I’d like it very much if he did, but, hey, life’s not fair.
2.) Someone’s always watching (and listening)
J watches and listens to everything – except when I ask him to clean up; he got the selective hearing gene from a long line of guys in our family. His ability to repeat words and actions is fantastic for teaching him new things.
But the kicker is that he picks up on EVERYTHING, not just the things we want him to, including the occasional cuss word; thank you, Nana. I can’t be perfect all of the time – no one can, but knowing that J is impressionable and watching my every move is enough to keep bad habits and bad decisions at bay (most of the time).
3.) Speak up
While potty training, we used a jellybean reward system – otherwise known as bribery. J received two jellybeans for number one and 100 jelly beans for number two – luckily he can’t quantify just how much 100 is, so we just gave him a small handful. Occasionally, we’d ask J what color jellybeans he wanted. Not fully understanding the question, he’d matter-of-factly say, “Three!” The amount was never open to negotiation, but he doesn’t know that. Who could blame him for trying to weasel us out of an extra jellybean? I admire that, actually, because he would never know if he never asked. The worst that could happen is that we say no.
I currently can’t imagine a time when it’s possible to ignore J; he is the master of being louder than the loudest person in the room. I do look forward to the day the inside voice concept sinks in, but I hope that J never loses that instinct to speak up for himself. It’s something I’m still learning, but luckily I have a persistent teacher!
4.) Never take yourself too seriously
I’m a big believer that – especially as a military spouse – I can’t take things too seriously. Imagine how stressful the day to day would be if I weren’t able to laugh at things and laugh at myself. I’ve honestly laughed more in the two and a half years of J’s life than I ever have before. I’m fine being silly, but before J I was still hesitant to make a fool of myself in public. Now I sing and dance with him in the grocery store if we like the song on the loudspeaker just to see him smile.
5.) I’m tough
There was a time in my life when I would freak at the sight of a spider or snake. And I couldn’t hear, see or smell throw-up because I’d be next. But my kids depend on me for just about everything. When J is sick, he wants mommy. If he sees a bug in the house, he comes and gets me – not that my husband isn’t tough enough to handle disposing of an ugly spider, he’s just rarely here when J spots them. Parents have some freaky super power that blocks out fear or disgust when it comes to caring for and protecting their children. I would do anything I need to do for my kids, from opening the pickle jar to protecting them at any cost (this is not a challenge to the creepy crawlies of the world). They need me to be Super Mom, and if it weren’t for my toddler and his baby sister, I would never know I had such an awesome alter ego.